Savage Model 25 Lightweight Varminter-T .17 Hornet Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
The .17 Hornet cartridge caught our attention when it was announced at the beginning of 2012. (See the .17 Hornet article on the Rifle Cartridge Page.) Based on a blown out, sharp shouldered, necked-down .22 Hornet case, it seemed like a logical step for Hornady to take. Hornady developed the cartridge and Savage supplied the test rifles for the new caliber. Guns and Shooting Online's Gunsmithing Editor, Rocky Hays, was able to shoot .17 Hornet preproduction rifles and ammunition during Media Day at the Range, before the opening of the 2012 SHOT Show.
The .17 Hornet cartridge is designed for extreme accuracy and reasonable cost. Hornady Superformance Varmint .17 Hornet ammunition is reputed to be loaded to very tight tolerances.
Hornady ballistics call for a 20 grain V-Max bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 3650 fps with 592 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy (ME) from a 24" barrel. That is 1000 fps faster than the 17 grain .17 HMR load, 960 fps faster than typical 45 grain .22 Hornet factory loads and comparable to .22-250 velocities with 55 grain bullets. At 400 yards the remaining energy is 131 ft. lbs., which is about the same energy the rimfire .17 HMR delivers at 100 yards. The trajectory of the .17 Hornet is such that, zeroed at 200 yards from a scoped rifle, the bullet rises only 1.1" at 100 yards and drops only 6.4" below the line of sight at 300 yards. (For comparison, the .22 Hornet drops 17.6" at 300 yards!)
The .17 Hornet is a long range varmint cartridge ideal for use in semi-populated areas. It has about a 12 yard advantage in maximum point blank range over typical 55 grain .223 Remington loads in a smaller, quieter package less likely to disturb the neighbors. Farmers are going to love this cartridge. On the other hand, it is going to be the scourge of wood chucks, rock chucks, ground hogs, marmots, sand/sage rats, gophers and the like.
Savage introduced the new cartridge in their Model 25 Lightweight Varminter series rifles. These include the Lightweight Varminter-T with a laminated thumbhole stock and satin blued barreled action, Lightweight Varminter with a laminated Monte Carlo stock and satin blued barreled action, and Walking Varminter with a black plastic stock and matte black (bead blasted black oxide) barreled action.
The no frills Walking Varminter is, by far, the least attractive Model 25 version. With a 2012 MSRP of $567, it is $140 cheaper than the Lightweight Varminter and $187 cheaper than the Lightweight Varminter-T (the subject of this review), but the models with laminated hardwood stocks and satin blued metal finish are definitely worth the additional cost. Having handled and fired the Lightweight Varminter, which is styled along the lines of the much less expensive (2012 MSRP $363) Axis big game hunting rifle, we are glad to have a Lightweight Varminter-T for this review. Along with the gun lock, owner's manual and literature that typically accompanies new rifles, our Lightweight Varminter-T came with a signed test target showing a three-shot, 0.80" group shot at 100 yards.
The Model 25 Lightweight Varminter-T's natural color laminated stock is finished with a synthetic satin clear coat. It incorporates a thumbhole, flared pistol grip, roll-over Monte Carlo comb and a wide varmint style forend with three barrel cooling slots per side. The butt terminates in a solid, black rubber butt plate. Blued steel detachable sling swivel studs are provided, one on the buttstock and two on the forend to accommodate a bipod and a sling simultaneously. We used the extra stud to mount a compact (9"-13") Caldwell XLA Pivot bipod.
It is a racy looking, but functional, stock design that is popular with Savage customers. Stocks of similar design are also supplied on the Model 12 BTCSS (.204, .223, .22-250), 93 BTVS (.22 WMR), Mark II BTV (.22 LR) and 93R17 BTV (.17 HMR). We are not fans of thumbhole stocks on hard-kicking rifles, but we think the Savage version looks rather trick on varmint rifles.
The Model 25 is a turn bolt action that cocks the striker as the bolt is rotated to unlock from the receiver. The bolt locks at the front with three lugs, which means it only requires about a 60-degree rotation to open, a nice feature. Holes are drilled in both sides of the front receiver ring to vent gases escaping from a ruptured case away from the shooter's face.
This is an action designed for economical mass production and it shows. The long, bulky, round receiver is drilled from bar stock with an oval slot for an ejection port and no integral recoil lug. It is a huge receiver, but was designed to accommodate only small .223 length cartridges. Using a Lufkin tape, we measured the Model 25 receiver at approximately 8-3/8" long. For comparison, we measured the receiver of a 9-lug Weatherby Mark V action, which is designed to accommodate long (.375 H&H length) Magnum cartridges and that we have always considered a very large bolt action, at approximately 6-3/4" in length.
The .223 Remington cartridge, for which the Model 25 was designed, has a maximum overall length of 2.260" and the .17 Hornet cartridge is only 1.707" long. The Model 25 bolt, however, is approximately 7.9" long. Why the Model 25 action, designed for small and not particularly powerful cartridges, needs to be so large is a mystery to us.
The Model 25's boIt is assembled from multiple pieces (the bolt head, body and handle are all separate parts). There is no separate bolt release; the trigger serves as the bolt stop. (Hold the trigger back to remove or replace the bolt.) The bolt body is engine turned, a nice touch that we always appreciate.
The bolt handle is simply screwed into the bolt body with a spacer between the handle and the bolt. The hole in the end of the round bolt knob accepts a ¼" Allan wrench for tightening. Being almost straight, it sticks out pretty far from the side of the stock. When the action is closed and locked, the bolt handle is over the front of the trigger guard.
The extractor is a short claw mounted between two of the locking lugs at the front of the bolt and it takes a decent bite on the case rim. We feel this extractor represents an improvement over the sliding type used in the Savage 110 bolt action. There is a plunger ejector in the bolt face.
The one-piece trigger guard and bottom "iron" are chintzy looking molded polymer, as is the detachable magazine. The angled magazine protrudes from the bottom of the stock as a triangular shape, to the detriment of the rifle's lines. However, it looks better than a box magazine sticking straight out of the bottom of the stock. The recessed magazine release (also plastic) is located immediately forward of the magazine.
The barreled action is pillar bedded in the stock and the button rifled, medium heavy barrel is free-floating. The 24" barrel length should allow the .17 Hornet to achieve its full rated velocity. The barrel is screwed into the Model 25 receiver and secured by a typical Savage locking collar. Properly executed, this is an excellent system that allows very precise headspacing. Savage centerfire barreled actions are individually checked for proper headspace and TIR after assembly.
Two-piece, Weaver-type scope bases are pre-mounted on top of the receiver. We removed these and found that, underneath, the barrel had been oiled, as were the mounting screws. (The whole barreled action, of course, had been oiled to prevent rust before being packaged.) This increases the likelihood that they will eventually loosen, causing the rifle to lose its zero at some inopportune time. We removed the bases and cleaned the screws, bases and the top of the receiver with alcohol before remounting. Scope mounting screws should be clean and tight and conscientious gunsmiths often seal them with blue Loctite, which we did.
A varmint type Accu-Trigger is used in the Model 25 and it can be adjusted as light as 1.5 pounds. (The Accu-triggers used in Savage big game rifles are adjustable down to 2.5 pounds.) You must remove the barreled action from the stock to adjust the Accu-Trigger, which is easy to do. The AccuTrigger in our test rifle was factory adjusted for a 2.68 pound release, which we found satisfactory and left alone.
The safety is a simple two-position lever at the right rear of the receiver, about ½" behind the root of the bolt handle when the bolt is locked. The forward position is "fire" (a red dot shows when the safety is forward) and rearward is "safe." The safety blocks rearward movement of the trigger, but allows the bolt to be operated to remove a chambered cartridge. The safety lever must be in its forward (fire) position to remove the bolt from the action.
Model 25 Lightweight Varminter-T Specifications
We had initially intended to mount a standard 3-9x40mm hunting scope in Leupold steel rings on our .17 Hornet test rifle, but we decided that such a flat shooting, long range cartridge deserved more scope. Therefore, we mounted a Bushnell Yardage Pro 4-12x42mm riflescope with a European style fast-focus eyepiece, mil-dot reticle, ¼ MOA fingertip knobs and a built-in laser rangefinder. There is a review of this scope on the Scopes and Sport Optics page, so suffice to say here that we find laser rangefinder scopes excellent for varmint hunting. The Yardage Pro comes with mounting clamps designed for Weaver bases, so scope mounting was very simple.
At the time of this writing, Hornady is the only supplier of .17 Hornet ammunition and the new cartridge has not yet found its way onto the shelves of our local sporting goods store. This will surely change, but to expedite matters we requested test ammo from the nice folks at Hornady, who graciously sent us the ammunition used for this review. Thank you, Hornady!
Our test shooting was conducted, as usual, at the Izaak Walton outdoor rifle range south of Eugene, Oregon during two range days about a week apart. The weather was clear and mostly sunny both days, with a high temperature of about 70-degrees on the first day and 56-degrees on the second day. 8-12 MPH variable wind gusts of variable direction had us trying to shoot during the lulls, as .17 caliber cartridges tend to be sensitive to crosswinds. Chuck Hawks, Rocky Hays, Gordon Landers, Shuyler Barnum, Bob Fleck and Jim Fleck did the the test shooting from a bench rest using a Caldwell Lead Sled. Hoppe's "Crosshair" targets were placed at 100 yards and three shot groups were fired for record. Here are our shooting results.
As you can see, our shooting results are quite similar to the 0.8" test target supplied with the rifle. Particularly considering that we were shooting outdoors in a variable wind, rather than indoors in a tunnel.
It is clear that the .17 Hornet is a cartridge with excellent accuracy potential and we loved it. The muzzle blast is very quiet for a centerfire rifle and the recoil is negligible. This new cartridge deserves to be very popular; it basically makes the .223 obsolete, at least as a varmint cartridge. (The .223 is probably a better small predator cartridge, though.)
We found the Lightweight Varminter-T rifle's weight to be ideal. It is heavy enough for steady holding and has a solid feel, but it is not as heavy and bulky as most varmint rifles. It is, for example, 1.75 pounds lighter and 2.5 inches shorter than a .223 Savage Model 12 Thumbhole Varminter we previously reviewed. (See the Product Reviews page for details.)
The bolt's plunger ejector kicks fired brass well clear of the rifle. However, if you accidentally deflect a case back into the ejection port (we like to eject our fired brass into our hand for reloading), the port's small size means that you have to turn the rifle upside down and shake it to get the fired case to drop clear. The ejection port is not big enough to reach into. These small ejection ports may increase receiver stiffness (the manufacturer's justification) by an insignificant amount and reduce production cost, but they are a complete pain in the rear. In our opinion, bolt action repeaters should have open top receivers.
We found it best to feed cartridges from the detachable magazine, since the receiver's small loading/ejection port is not conducive to single loading. The magazine satisfactorily fed cartridges into the chamber, but was irritating to load due to a very long internal spacer. This magazine was designed for the longer .223 cartridge and the little .17 Hornets looked ludicrous sitting so far forward in the oversize magazine.
The thumbhole stock is appropriate for a varmint rifle and reasonably comfortable in use, but we agreed it could be improved by a somewhat more open pistol grip curve with little or no flare at the bottom. We would also like to see the rather abrupt edge under the thumb hole more rounded. The comb is high and straight; it positioned our faces properly to look through the scope.
We were impressed by the virtues of the .17 Hornet cartridge and would like to see Savage develop an action with a receiver, bolt and magazine properly sized to the cartridge. Unfortunately, Bill Dermody at Savage told us this would not be possible, because the anticipated sales volume required to justify designing and producing a special action for a deluxe .17 Hornet rifle simply is not there. All Savage 17 Hornet rifles will be built on Model 25 actions for the foreseeable future.
Savage Arms (www.savagearms.com) is among the good guys in our industry and all Savage rifles are made in the USA. The Model 25 Varminter-T provides an accurate home for one of the cutest centerfire cartridges to come down the pike in a long time. The Varminter-T's avant-garde stock design is both racy and functional. The Model 25 is an economy action, as we have pointed out in this review, but this does not keep the .17 Hornet Model 25 Varminter-T from being a nifty varmint rifle that we are sure will win over varmint hunters when they try it. We liked it well enough to purchase our test rifle for future experiments with the .17 Hornet cartridge. The second decade of the 21st Century is looking like an increasingly dangerous time for pesky rodents.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
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